Lankeswari is the presiding deity of Junagarh, the old capital of Kalahandi. Lankeswari is stated by tradition to be the protectress of mythical city Lanka ruled by Ravan referred to as Lankini or Lankadevi. Similarly Lankeswari was also the presiding deity in the Sonpur region during the reign of Chhindakanagas. After defeating the Soma rulers, Chhindakanagas installed the Telgu Chodas as local ruling chief there. Even today Lankeswari is worshipped in the form of a flat rocky islet in the bed of Mahanadi and a whirlpool of Mahanadi is known as Lankeswari Darha. Junagarh is one of the key historical sites on the bank of Hati river in the Tel River Valley and ruins of Soma, Kalachuri, Chhindakanaga, Ganga and Naga dynasties are lying scattered in and around Junagarh. Till the capital was shifted to Bhawanipatna during 1850 it was the capital and nerve centre of Kalahandi as well as Trikalinga area. Junagarh was known as Koilabatipatana, and Jenabalipatana about which there are mentions in Sarala Mahabharata also. Evidence of past glory of Junagarh can be found with several Sakta, Saiva & Baishnavite temples dedicated to Lankeswari, Kanakadurga, Budharaja, Someswar Mahadeva and Dadhibamana and other temples. Several Bhairava images of different period from 1st century to 12th century A.D. and Sculptures are lying scattered. Lankeswari is the presiding deity and treated with venerations by general mass.
It is an unique Sakta and Tantra centre and was the tutelary deity of different powers like Chhindakanaga, Ganga and Naga dynasties. Many legends are associated with the deity. According to one popular legend the Banka Paikas a warrior community brought Lankeswari from the South by the order of the King. Virtually the Banka soldiers defeated the enemy and brought the deity to the capital city at Jenabalipatna, now Junagarh by beating of Ghumura. The legend may be related to the period when captured Soma Vansi Chhindakanagas Kingdom or may be Gangas who defeated Kalachuries. Incidentally it was considered as honour for the victorious kings to bring the deities from subjugated territories to install in their capital. The period of 11th to 13th Century A.D. was marked by great political disturbances in South Kosala and Trikalinga due to continuous warfare between Soma Vansi, Kalachuri, Chindakanaga and Ganga dynasties and Kalahandi became battle field in the competition among different powers to become Trikalingadhipati. Large number of Sati and Hero stones in Junagarh is indicator of long warfare. Deity Lankeswari is treated as war goddess who not only conferring victory and success in the battle field but also participating in the war as per tradition. Considering the iconographic style scholars assigned the date of the deity in 12th Century A.D. Deity Lankeswari is four armed. She sits in Bajraparyanka posture on a lotus throne. She holds Sankha and Chakra in her upper left and right hands respectively and her lower right hand having Varada Mudra and left hand inAbhaya Mudra with spread out tongue. The image is carved in black chlorite stone measuring 32″ by 16″. Such iconic feature synchronizing Kali with Vishnu is unique and only of its kind in the State of Orissa. The deity is worshipped with Vanadurga Vija Mantra. In front of the deity there is a four handed Kali image holding sword and severed head in upper and lower right hands and skull cup and nose in upper and lower left hands respectively dancing over a corpse. As per tradition from 11th to 18th century A.D. the vanquished kings were sacrificed and there was also other forms of human sacrifice. However those traditions are of the past. There are many folklores and legends in the name of goddess Lankeswari. Apart from a war goddess she is very much lively as well as furious. Local people claim that very often deity use to come out from the temple in the form of a young beautiful girl and participate in Boria dance along with young girls of the locality.Boria is a traditional dance form where girls sing self composed songs and dance without musical instrument. Another folk lore says that one day when the priest reached the temple he found a glass bangle vendor waiting. He told that a young girl from inside purchased glass bangles and told him to get the payments from her father. The priest understood the mischief and paid the price. Inside the temple the priest expressed his
annoyance and soon the glass bangles fell down from the idol. It is also said that as the deity was very much furious the original idol was buried near Deymuhan in the confluence of Bhatrajore and Hati River and a new idol was installed. The most important festival of deity Lankeswari is Khandabasa on the night of Mulastami. After secret rituals the two ceremonial swords of deity is placed by the Maharaja over two heaps of rice in the both sides of the Altar. People believed that if the sword stands straight the area will be free from natural calamities and in the event of tilting to any side it indicates bad omen. Khandabasa festival is the beginning of the Saradiya Mahotsav in Kalahandi and after which preparation for the Mahotsav starts. After shifting of the Capital during 1849- 50 to Bhawanipatna due to outbreak of epidemic at Junagarh, the deity Manikeswari became the presiding deity of the royal family replacing Lankeswari, who was the ancient tutelary deity of the dynasty. However she continues to be a deity of the masses, revered, adorned as well as feared by all section of people. Incidentally people hesitate to falsely swear in the name of Lankeswari even today.
Mandar Bagich Para,